Synaptics brings buttonless clicking to netbook touchpads

COMPUTEX — How do you make a netbook as compact as possible without turning the touchpad into an unusable strip of plastic? Synaptics believes it has a solution: the ClickPad. At Computex last week, we got to try the new pointing device in a customized concept system based on HP's Mini 1000 netbook.

First, a brief introduction. The ClickPad looks a whole lot like the button-less touchpads on Apple's new MacBooks, but with a twist. Apple based its clicking mechanism on a hinge at the top, so you're really supposed to click with your thumb at the bottom of the tracking area. Synaptics, meanwhile, built the ClickPad using a scissor-switch mechanism that lets you click anywhere on the surface with the same amount of pressure.

That may sound like a small difference, but it should change the usage model quite dramatically. Where the Apple design works like any old touchpad, the ClickPad lets you click down wherever your finger is, sort of like a tap-to-click mode on steroids. To right click, just click down with two fingers. The ClickPad becomes especially useful for dragging and dropping, and it completely removes the need for buttons or a button-substitute area—a change that should allow for a larger tracking area.

Synaptics told us it expects ClickPads to make up a third of its output by June 2010. The representative to whom we spoke called that a "conservative" estimate, however, so the design may well become a staple in netbooks and other systems.

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